At last the conclusion to the Southern Fried Comics interview. The second and final part will introduce you to some comic inspired artwork as well as a discussion on DC’s Flashpoint and Marvel’s Fear Itself events. Owner Barry Herring will let us in on the ecletic tastes of his customers as well as drop some award heavy comic names. Put on your safety helmet and Superman pj’s cuz here we go.
MG: You’ve also had artists and comic writers here. Do you focus just on people in the local area – the local, of course, being the southeast – in general, or do you get whoever you can grab?
BH: The name Southern Fried Comics isn’t just something we came up with on a lark. We would like to showcase southern artist and writers, certainly. The way things work now is that you don’t have to live in New York or LA (to work in the comic industry). Kody Chamberlain and Rob Guillory from Layfayette, LA. They were great. They came up, and it was an amazing time. There are these small little things that happen. If you had told me that I would be hosting a writer/artist and an Eisner Award-winning artist in my store… much less that fact that I’d own a store… and both at the same time, years ago I would not have believed you. We love to show what we can do as Southerners.
But also, you have to look at the practicality of if I want, I’ll just grab a name off the rack there… If I want Geoff Johns to come to my store, Geoff Johns is not going to book a flight, fly down here to hang out with me for a day, and fly back on his own dime. And that’s fair enough. We’re paying for Geoff Johns to come over.
JH: So that’s another reason for us to focus regionally.
BH: Exactly. But there are a lot of people in the South who do this type of thing, and we would like to have more.
MG: You mentioned the Artist Ledge. How did that start up?
JH: With our top two or three possible locations that we were thinking about, they were different environments; so we knew we had to take a different direction with whichever location we choose. Down here we knew that we wanted to emphasize more about the art. We reached out to a couple of artists that we knew like Marcus Howell on the back wall, the colored ink one. He’s sold about three pieces already. He was one of the first artists that we had. I reached out to him and said, “Do you do comics?” I knew his style and thought that it’d be really fitting. I asked him if he’d done any comics. He said, “I haven’t, but that’d be fun.” So he threw some together… not ‘threw’ them together. He did some pieces and brought them in. A couple of them sold, and he brought some more in. Well, Russ (Farris) is a customer that we came across. He said, “You know, by the way…”
BH: He just brought some things in once and said, “What do you think?” I said, “I love them. Can I have one for the store to put up?” He have the ledge behind the register just for people to show their art. I put the Aquaman and Aqualad up, and people just got a kick out of it. We had space, so we asked him to bring some for…
JH: He’s had a couple of commissions from being here. He sold a few pieces at the last Art Walk (a city sponsored Downtown event). So that’s been good. Kevin (Jones) is from New Orleans. He does collage pieces. He had a lot of fun with those. He does non-comic stuff too, as well.
BH: We found him because we found a piece of his art at McKenzie’s on Main (a local art gallery) that we liked and actually ended up buying ourselves that is in no way comic related.
JH: It’s Community Coffee. He’s in New Orleans and kinda a Community Coffee freak, so… I just thought his style would be fitting, and I talked to him about it. He was like, “That would be so much fun.” He created… I don’t know how many pieces. A ton of pieces. And of course Will Brooks, the graphic artist from Jackson (MS). Ran across him at a comic con, I think.
Duhstee Parker is from here. He came in … and his girlfriend made him ask. Now that we have it full, a lot of people are approaching us; but we want to make sure that we somehow keep it comic related. It doesn’t have to be
a direct interpertation of a comic character. I don’t think we need to be that…
BH: It just has to be inspired.
JH: Yeah. I can be, somehow, that feel. We’re not limited to that, but that is what we have in the store right now. Art is not quick moving, but it provides atmosphere and an outlet for the artist. They can meet somebody and say “We have pieces at Southern Fried Comics.” They’ll come in and say “We’re looking for…,” and they’ll look at it here. We hand out cards, and
that sort of thing. It’s part of the community atmosphere. It’s not like we have the art up there to make a ton of money.
BH: We have just hooked people up with the artist. We may not have what they want in store, so they commission pieces.
JH: And we don’t get anything from that, but it’s more about the community. And the small art. The necklaces. We have an artist that lives upstairs, and she creates these necklaces. They actually do pretty well. Girls come in and like them. It’s a good present that guys pick out for their girlfriends. Even the smaller things that we have that are artist created are pretty fun. I think it adds to the environment.
MG: Who would you say makes up your main customer demographic? Who mostly comes in?
BH: Well, we have a lot of males college age and older. That would be the largest demographic. We do actually have quite a bit of women now. A lot of these are high school students and older. We do have kids. You saw the mom come in with her kid earlier. We probably have more kids that we really do have older people. Older being… maybe 45 or older. I would say. Yeah, definitely more kids than that. So, yeah, it’s kind of all over the place.
MG: A good mix?
BH: Yeah, it is a good mix.
JH: Which is one of the reasons why the events are always… Some will appeal to some people and won’t appeal to others. That’s okay because I think there is enough of a mix to kind of find something that will appeal to everyone. That’s why we try to change out… I’m sure you’ve noticed that the events are kind of… They may seem kind of random. There’s a little method to the madness.
BH: Yeah, it’s not a kids’ event when you’re discussing the DC New 52. The last Munny Making party we did had almost an equal mix of kids and adults.
MG: What do you find that they are buying more of? Are you selling more of the new issues or trades or figures? Or is it, again, more of mix? Someone might come in for a new issue and pick up a trade and vice versa.
BH: Well, you have your subscriptions, which are or course the new issues. We do more new issues than we do trades. We do a heck of a lot of trades. You take something like… John was in for The Walking Dead. Very few people buy the single issues of Walking Dead. It just doesn’t… I read the single issues of Walking Dead, and it i’s excrushiating. It just goes by so quickly, and you have to wait another month. With the trade paperbacks you can get this whole six months all at once. But then you have people who will not buy Uncanny X-Force, one of the best Marvel titles, and they know it. But it’s “No, no, no. I’m waiting for the trades. I’m waiting. No, I can’t pick it up.” But then there are people who have to have the new Batman as soon as it comes out here on Wensday. So it’s across the board. I would say we do, just because it’s so much easier to pick up a three dollar comic than it is to do a 15 to 20 dollar trade paperback, I would say that, of course, we sell more single issue comics. But very healthy trade and graphic novel (business).
MG: You mentioned the Munny figures earlier. How well do those do for you?
BH: They do very well. It’s something that we kind of we were very surprised at. We tried to find some things that were different. I guess not traditional for a comic shop around here. And some things work and some things don’t work as well. Something like Marvel Frenzies, those blind box Marvel figures, we’ve had to reorder those numerous times. It’s just like hotcakes, you know? They do very, very well. We’ve ordered a lot of the Munnies, and it’s healthy. It’s a nice, healthy part of the business. We actully do a lot better with those than we do with action figures. I tried carrying quite a bit of action figures. I just think that there’s something about our customers that they want something else, and an action figure is not quite it. We’ve tried to find what it is that they want.
MG: You have that little kids’ corner. How well is that doing for you? Are parents coming in, seeing you have a kids’ corner, and later coming back in with their kids?
BH: It does well. It can always do better. The kids comics are something that we all have to work at. Me on a store level. DC and Marvel on their level. We all have to work really hard at it. You can’t just put out Tiny Titans, put it on the rack, and expect kids to come out and get it. They have to put out a product that kids are actually going to want to have to read. And I have to let the kids know it’s there. It’s not the driving force in the store, of course; but it’s essential and works. You just have to work a little harder at it. But that’s kids now. Some don’t know anything about comics. You have to almost teach them how they work. Yeah, it’s a bit more work; but if you don’t work on something like that, there are no comic shops in the future because we’re going to age out. Someone has to read them past us.
MG: How do you feel about the industry itself? DC, Marvel, Image. How are they approaching their customers? Are they doing everything they can do to keep them? Or, with the big event books, are they just trying to milk them?
BH: Well, the independent book… You take a company like Image. Starting last year it seems, or maybe that’s because I opened the store last year… But Image has been taking lots of risks. They’ve been going with a lot of creator owned, which that’s what they are; but they’ve been putting out a lot of books. “Let’s try this. If it doesn’t work, we’ll make it into a limited series. If it does work, great.” They’re becoming what Dark Horse used to be. Dark Horse now just basically publishes licensed stuff. “Here’s Star Wars. Enjoy. We’ve got five different books. You’ll find something.” That kind of thing. Image is trying really really hard.
And some of the other publishers are too. They’re finding things people want. If it is licensed stuff, fine. Game of Thrones on HBO, hugely popular series. True Blood. Both popular series. IDW does both of those. They’re trying to find what works. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Kevin Eastman, I believe, is the one working on it now finally getting it back to not quite what it used to be but somewhere along those lines. It’s another insanely popular series.
DC did a huge move, HUGE, with rebooting everything. Of course there’s this talk about “I’m quitting. I’m never getting another DC book ever again.” Nine out of ten people in my store did not have that attitude. They were excited about it. They wanted to try things. DC has really gone out on a ledge and is trying to make things work. They know they had to do something. I think it’s working. Their event comic for this summer, Flashpoint, they told you “Here’s all the issues that we’re putting out. Here’s everything. Here’s a list of everything you can buy. Here’s a list of what you have to buy. We recommend you read five issues of Flashpoint; and if you want to read about Batman, here’s three issues. If you want to read a story about Aquaman, here it is, three issues.” And on and on. So they were very upfront about it. I don’t think they were trying to steal people blind.
I think Marvel has lost a lot of goodwill with Fear Itself. I found it interesting that some people were not pleased with DC for the amount of issues they were putting out for Flashpoint. But Marvel never told you how many issues they were putting out. Every month it was, “Oh, well here’s another series we’re adding to Fear Itself.” Two months later: “Here’s ANOTHER series we’re starting now for Fear Itself. And, guess what. It’s a seven issue series, but we’re adding three more issues on top of that. Seven point one, point two, point three.” It’s turned a lot of people off, I think. And with a bunch of cancellations, I know they’ve actually hurt some more people… some very popular characters that were selling better than some comics that weren’t cut. They’ve cut them and moved them to other titles like X-23; and now she’s hanging around with Avenger’s Academy. Marvel, for the first time in a long time, may be number two to DC’s number one; and it’s been vice versa for ever. So I think Marvel has a little catching up to do and a little goodwill to make up as far as the business goes.
MG: Do you see Image and the smaller companies making up some ground at this point?
BH: Whenever something like the DC New 52 happens, that’s good for everyone. You saw the DC 52 come out, and they launched the new Turtles, I believe, the same month. Turtles did not miss a beat. I sold more Turtles than some of my Marvel comics. I sold more Turtles than some of the DC 52. Yeah, they can make up some ground. They can steal some ground, or claim it. Not steal it. But they can claim it for their own. They just have to find the right thing to put out there. Definitely. Definitely.
MG: You mentioned earlier that you were a big fan of comics. What were you into?
BH: Well, I was a big X-Men fan. Still am. That’s why I am very, very hard on Marvel because I love Marvel comics. I absolutely love them. I love the X-Men. I love their whole world. Their whole universe. I just… I love Marvel. That’s why I will take them to task. I will give them grief because they are better than what they are right now, so I’m very hard on them. There was a point in my life where I could choose DC or Marvel, and I went with Marvel. I really did not do a whole lot of DC until I got this store. Now when I got this store and could read any DC book I wanted, it was just amazing all this stuff I’d never read before. It was great and I fell in love with it. But Marvel… The X-Men will always have a big piece of my heart.
MG: When did you first get into comics? Was it the ole spinner rack days in the convience stores?
BH: It was the old spinner rack days. My parents had a grocery store. And I would read the comics off the spinner rack. It was my baby sitter while I was at the store. The comic guy would come through and grab on of our buggies and fill it up with comics, and switch out the comics. I just thought that that was the most awesome thing ever, and I’d just stand there waiting for him to put the comics on the rack. I probably drove the guy insane, but I just loved it. That’s really where I was exposed to comics. And really all of the comics… well, not as many as this… I could read any of them. It was a great time. A great time. And that’s how I was exposed to comics.
MG: Now that you’ve had the store for a year, gotten it on it’s feet, what’s the plan? Where are you wanting to take it? Or are you just taking it as it comes right now?
BH: I’m looking at finding new things to put in the store. We just got the Kooky Cans. I’m always trying to find something that’s a litte different. We got the Kooky Cans. I’m trying statues, not for the first time, but trying a different type of statue. It’s about finding what merchandise fits best with my customers. Eventually, of course, I’d love to go to a convention as Southern Fried Comics. But for that… When I go to a convention I just see people selling a lot of the same thing. So, again, I have to find something to sell at that convention that no one else has. If you just take a bunch of your issues… “That’s awesome. You have Resurrection Man 1-4. So does he and he. And he does. And she does.” Or you’ve got old comics. Great. They’ve got the same thing. What are you showing us different? That’s what I’m trying to find is something to set up apart. Maybe get out there at a convention. At the same time it’s almost like a working day off where I can go as a store and as a fan.
That’s what I’m trying to do is find more interesting stuff. Anyone with a Diamond account can buy comics, but I want to put some different things in my store. I found my niche. I’m trying to expand it now.
So, Geekers, what’s the final say on Southern Fried Comics? Do you agree with Barry’s assessment of the comic industry? Any suggestions on other uncommon merchandise that he might find a good fit for his store?